Being ignorant of hidden charges and failing to plan ahead can mean a single person paying an extra £400*, or a family of four paying over £1,000**, on top of the basic cost of a ticket for return flights on a, so called, low-cost airline. Does this mean the days of budget airfares have passed us by or is it still possible to grab a cheap flight to somewhere sunny for a long weekend?
Whilst admin and check-in fees, along with bag checking charges can mean it’s cheaper to go with a traditional operator that won’t charge for these services, a bit of shrewdness when comparing airlines can still mean it’s possible to get a great deal with a budget airline. So before you stuff your suitcase back under the bed, read Purple Parking’s list of essential tips on how to book flights and avoid unnecessary costs.
Booking charges vary significantly from airline to airline, and can depend on the type of payment you use. A recent call to make admin charges more transparent means that by January 2013 airlines will have to include debit card payment fees within their advertised prices. Travellers will still need to be aware of admin fees added during the booking process. Paying by debit or Visa Electron is usually cheaper than credit card, although EasyJet charges £9 as a flat admin fee for any booking and Ryanair £6, unless you have the company’s own Mastercard. Conversely, Flybe charges nothing for paying with a debit card or by Visa Electron and has no flat admin fee.
Airline Insurance: Yes or No?
Don’t forget to get travel insurance when booking your holiday, but make sure you shop around and watch out for the insurance add-on option when booking cheap flights. If you are wondering what this insurance covers, usually it will include holiday essentials such as medical expenses, loss and damage to personal possessions and trip cancellation, but will not be as comprehensive as other better value insurance that you can find online. If you already have travel insurance you won’t need to get the airline’s insurance, and if you make more than two trips a year it’s worth considering annual travel insurance to cover all your trips.
If you want to opt out of the airline’s own insurance you can do this when making your booking. You may need to de-select insurance if the airline has automatically ticked the box to add it. Ryanair’s form can be a little confusing, you are asked which country you live in for the purpose of buying insurance, amongst the country names is a don’t cover me option. You need to select this rather than ‘United Kingdom’ or you’ll be charged.
Weigh up your baggage fees
If it’s a short trip, it’s worth trying to stick to your hand luggage allowance. Wear what you can and invest in some travel bottles to store your toiletries effectively and stay within cabin liquid restrictions. Always check the airline’s weight and size limitations as these vary depending on the operator, with some being more generous than others. Both Flybe and Wizz Air allow you to take a bag weighing up to 10kg, whilst Flybe allows a bag size of 55x40x23, Wizz Air restricts you to just 42x32x25 and will charge you for more. Whatever you do make sure you stick to the restrictions as going over will mean you get faced with a nasty fee (£20 per kilo with Ryanair).
If you do need to check a bag always pay for it online in advance. Paying at the airport for a round trip will cost between £150-260 with Ryanair for a 20kg bag but considerably less, between £50-£80, when booked in advance online. For the same weight of luggage, Thomson Airways will charge between £30-£32 and EasyJet £18-32. Look out for handy booking packages that airlines are starting to introduce, these are no longer restricted to premium flyers or members and can include some of the add-on costs. Flybe’s New Economy is a changeable ticket that includes a 20kg hold baggage allowance, along with other benefits, making it cheaper that paying £28 to check a bag.
Catch up with check-in charges
Check-in fees can be quirky depending on the airline so make sure you don’t get caught out. When possible always check-in online before you arrive at the airport and make sure you print off your boarding pass, as you may be charged to do this at the airport. Ryanair charges £60 per person to print a boarding pass at the airport, adding £120 check-in charges for a round trip. Ryanair is also one of the only airlines to charge £12 to check in online (unless you have booked an including taxes and charges sale flight). Jet2 also charges £12 but only if you are checking-in luggage. For EasyJet, Flybe and Thomson check-in at the airport or online is free. However you choose to check-in, make sure you know the check-in times for your airline.
Don’t get the munchies
For low cost airlines, which won’t include food and drink on your flight, you can take food on-board (apart from hot drinks). You will often find something nicer and cheaper in the terminal shops before boarding, or if you’re on a budget, you can take your own picnic from home. Many people don’t realise that restrictions only apply to liquids so you can take food through airport security.
If you want to give plane food a go, as a general guide a sandwich will cost £3.55 on Ryanair, £3.95 on Flybe and £5.90 for a Sandwich Box that includes potato chips and a small drink on EasyJet.
Parking and pre and post-flight travel
Don’t leave it to the last minute to think about how you are going to get to the airport or where you are going to park your car. If not planned properly, travel or parking expense can easily double the cost of your cheap flights. If you’re choosing between airports, remember to consider petrol, taxi or train fare costs for travel to the airport at the time you will be travelling. If these are going to be expensive it might be worth looking at flights from an airport closer to home.
Parking and train tickets will be much cheaper if booked online in advance. Off-site car parks are often cheaper than on-site airport car parks, for instance a week’s parking at Heathrow starts at £53.95.
For a full break down of hidden costs, including payment charges, check-in fees, baggage allowances and charges, as well as food and drink prices, for budget and major airlines see Purple Parking’s hidden charges guide .
*This is based on Ryanair charges for a return trip for one passenger, paying by debit card, checking in one 20kg bag during peak times at the airport (during June, July, August, September and Christmas), checking in at the airport and buying one sandwich and drink on-board.
** This is based on Ryanair charges for a return trip for four passengers, paying by debit card, checking in two 20kg during peak times at the airport (during June, July, August, September and Christmas), checking in at the airport and buying four sandwiches and drinks on-board.